Robert Falconer by George MacDonald
Part I.--His Boyhood
Chapter III. The Boar's Head.
Miss Napier was the eldest of three maiden sisters who kept the principal hostelry of Rothieden, called The Boar's Head; from which, as Robert reached the square in the dusk, the mail-coach was moving away with a fresh quaternion of horses. He found a good many boxes standing upon the pavement close by the archway that led to the inn-yard, and around them had gathered a group of loungers, not too cold to be interested. These were looking towards the windows of the inn, where the owner of the boxes had evidently disappeared.
'Saw ye ever sic a sicht in oor toon afore!' said Dooble Sanny, as people generally called him, his name being Alexander Alexander, pronounced, by those who chose to speak of him with the ordinary respect due from one mortal to another, Sandy Elshender. Double Sandy was a soutar, or shoemaker, remarkable for his love of sweet sounds and whisky. He was, besides, the town-crier, who went about with a drum at certain hours of the morning and evening, like a perambulating clock, and also made public announcements of sales, losses, &c.; for the rest--a fierce, fighting fellow when in anger or in drink, which latter included the former.
'What's the sicht, Sandy?' asked Robert, coming up with his hands in the pockets of his trowsers.
'Sic a sicht as ye never saw, man,' returned Sandy; 'the bonniest leddy ever man set his ee upo'. I culd na hae thocht there had been sic a woman i' this warl'.'
'Hoot, Sandy!' said Robert, 'a body wad think she was tint (lost) and ye had the cryin' o' her. Speyk laicher, man; she'll maybe hear ye. Is she i' the inn there?'
'Ay is she,' answered Sandy. 'See sic a warl' o' kists as she's brocht wi' her,' he continued, pointing towards the pile of luggage. 'Saw ye ever sic a bourach (heap)? It jist blecks (beats) me to think what ae body can du wi' sae mony kists. For I mayna doobt but there's something or ither in ilka ane o' them. Naebody wad carry aboot toom (empty) kists wi' them. I cannot mak' it oot.'
The boxes might well surprise Sandy, if we may draw any conclusions from the fact that the sole implement of personal adornment which he possessed was two inches of a broken comb, for which he had to search when he happened to want it, in the drawer of his stool, among awls, lumps of rosin for his violin, masses of the same substance wrought into shoemaker's wax for his ends, and packets of boar's bristles, commonly called birse, for the same.
'Are thae a' ae body's?' asked Robert.
'Troth are they. They're a' hers, I wat. Ye wad hae thocht she had been gaein' to The Bothie; but gin she had been that, there wad hae been a cairriage to meet her,' said Crookit Caumill, the ostler.
The Bothie was the name facetiously given by Alexander, Baron Rothie, son of the Marquis of Boarshead, to a house he had built in the neighbourhood, chiefly for the accommodation of his bachelor friends from London during the shooting-season.
'Haud yer tongue, Caumill,' said the shoemaker. 'She's nae sic cattle, yon.'
'Haud up the bit bowat (stable-lantern), man, and lat Robert here see the direction upo' them. Maybe he'll mak' something o't. He's a fine scholar, ye ken,' said another of the bystanders.
The ostler held the lantern to the card upon one of the boxes, but Robert found only an M., followed by something not very definite, and a J., which might have been an I., Rothieden, Driftshire, Scotland.
As he was not immediate with his answer, Peter Lumley, one of the group, a lazy ne'er-do-weel, who had known better days, but never better manners, and was seldom quite drunk, and seldomer still quite sober, struck in with,
'Ye dinna ken a' thing yet, ye see, Robbie.'
From Sandy this would have been nothing but a good-humoured attempt at facetiousness. From Lumley it meant spite, because Robert's praise was in his ears.
'I dinna preten' to ken ae hair mair than ye do yersel', Mr. Lumley; and that's nae sayin' muckle, surely,' returned Robert, irritated at his tone more than at his words.
The bystanders laughed, and Lumley flew into a rage.
'Haud yer ill tongue, ye brat,' he said. 'Wha' are ye to mak' sic remarks upo' yer betters? A'body kens yer gran'father was naething but the blin' piper o' Portcloddie.'
This was news to Robert--probably false, considering the quarter whence it came. But his mother-wit did not forsake him.
'Weel, Mr. Lumley,' he answered, 'didna he pipe weel? Daur ye tell me 'at he didna pipe weel?--as weel's ye cud hae dune 't yersel', noo, Mr. Lumley?'
The laugh again rose at Lumley's expense, who was well known to have tried his hand at most things, and succeeded in nothing. Dooble Sanny was especially delighted.
'De'il hae ye for a de'il's brat! 'At I suld sweer!' was all Lumley's reply, as he sought to conceal his mortification by attempting to join in the laugh against himself. Robert seized the opportunity of turning away and entering the house.
'That ane's no to be droont or brunt aither,' said Lumley, as he disappeared.
'He'll no be hang't for closin' your mou', Mr. Lumley,' said the shoemaker.
Thereupon Lumley turned and followed Robert into the inn.
Robert had delivered his message to Miss Napier, who sat in an arm-chair by the fire, in a little comfortable parlour, held sacred by all about the house. She was paralytic, and unable to attend to her guests further than by giving orders when anything especial was referred to her decision. She was an old lady--nearly as old as Mrs. Falconer--and wore glasses, but they could not conceal the kindness of her kindly eyes. Probably from giving less heed to a systematic theology, she had nothing of that sternness which first struck a stranger on seeing Robert's grandmother. But then she did not know what it was to be contradicted; and if she had been married, and had had sons, perhaps a sternness not dissimilar might have shown itself in her nature.
'Noo ye maunna gang awa' till ye get something,' she said, after taking the receipt in request from a drawer within her reach, and laying it upon the table. But ere she could ring the bell which stood by her side, one of her servants came in.
'Please, mem,' she said, 'Miss Letty and Miss Lizzy's seein' efter the bonny leddy; and sae I maun come to you.'
'Is she a' that bonny, Meg?' asked her mistress.
'Na, na, she's nae sae fearsome bonny; but Miss Letty's unco ta'en wi' her, ye ken. An' we a' say as Miss Letty says i' this hoose. But that's no the pint. Mr. Lumley's here, seekin' a gill: is he to hae't?'
'Has he had eneuch already, do ye think, Meg?'
'I dinna ken aboot eneuch, mem; that's ill to mizzer; but I dinna think he's had ower muckle.'
'Weel, lat him tak' it. But dinna lat him sit doon.'
'Verra weel, mem,' said Meg, and departed.
'What gars Mr. Lumley say 'at my gran'father was the blin' piper o' Portcloddie? Can ye tell me, Miss Naper?' asked Robert.
'Whan said he that, Robert?'
'Jist as I cam in.'
Miss Napier rang the bell. Another maid appeared.
'Sen' Meg here direckly.'
Meg came, her eyes full of interrogation.
'Dinna gie Lumley a drap. Set him up to insult a young gentleman at my door-cheek! He s' no hae a drap here the nicht. He 's had ower muckle, Meg, already, an' ye oucht to hae seen that.'
''Deed, mem, he 's had mair than ower muckle, than; for there's anither gill ower the thrapple o' 'm. I div my best, mem, but, never tastin' mysel', I canna aye tell hoo muckle 's i' the wame o' a' body 'at comes in.'
'Ye're no fit for the place, Meg; that's a fac'.'
At this charge Meg took no offence, for she had been in the place for twenty years. And both mistress and maid laughed the moment they parted company.
'Wha's this 'at's come the nicht, Miss Naper, 'at they're sae ta'en wi'?' asked Robert.
'Atweel, I dinna ken yet. She's ower bonnie by a' accoonts to be gaein' about her lane (alone). It's a mercy the baron's no at hame. I wad hae to lock her up wi' the forks and spunes.'
'What for that?' asked Robert.
But Miss Napier vouchsafed no further explanation. She stuffed his pockets with sweet biscuits instead, dismissed him in haste, and rang the bell.
'Meg, whaur hae they putten the stranger-leddy?'
'She's no gaein' to bide at our hoose, mem.'
'What say ye, lass? She's never gaein' ower to Lucky Happit's, is she?'
'Ow na, mem. She's a leddy, ilka inch o' her. But she's some sib (relation) to the auld captain, and she's gaein' doon the street as sune's Caumill's ready to tak her bit boxes i' the barrow. But I doobt there'll be maist three barrowfu's o' them.'
'Atweel. Ye can gang.'